2018 NCAA Tournament: Athens Regional Preview
1. Georgia (39-17, 18-12 Southeastern Conference)
11th appearance (first since 2011); at-large bid; second in the SEC East
BA 500 Prospects: OF Keegan McGovern (282), DH Michael Curry (420)
Season In A Sentence: Thanks to some breakout stars, Georgia was one of this season’s biggest surprises, rising to the status of a top-eight seed after not having a winning record in SEC play since 2011.
Player To Watch: Keegan McGovern, OF: McGovern led the Bulldogs in almost every statistical category at the plate. The Willacoochee, Ga., native earned first-team all-SEC honors after hitting .325/.440/.630 with 15 home runs, 44 RBIs, and 63 runs scored.
Best Weekend: vs. Arkansas, May 17-19. Georgia recorded series wins in six of its 10 SEC series in 2018. However, none were as big as the Bulldogs' series win over Arkansas during the final weekend of the regular season. Georgia bounced back from a series-opening defeat and won the final two games against the Razorbacks, including a thrilling, 8-7, extra-inning victory to even the series at one game apiece. The two victories secured the No. 3 seed in the SEC Tournament for the Bulldogs.
Outlook: Georgia has thrived at home this season, only dropping six games all year at Foley Field. If the Bulldogs can continue this trend, they will advance to a super regional for the first time since 2008.
2. Duke (40-15, 18-11 Atlantic Coast Conference)
Seventh appearance (first since 2016); at-large bid; second in the ACC Coastal Division
BA 500 Prospects: OF Griffin Conine (50), OF Jimmy Herron (165), SS Zack Kone (228)
Season In A Sentence: Duke has already put together one of its best seasons in program history, winning 40 games for the first time ever and remaining in contention for the ACC regular season championship until the season's final weekend.
Player To Watch: Griffin Conine, OF: Entering the year as one of the top draft prospects in the nation, Conine had a season of mixed results. Conine started slowly but came on down the stretch to hit 15 home runs and 49 RBIs while recording a .402 OBP. If Conine gets hot in Athens, he could lead the Blue Devils to a super regional.
Best Weekend: vs. North Carolina, May 11-13. Duke’s historic 2018 ACC season reached its high point with a series victory over in-state rival North Carolina. The Blue Devils won the first two games of the series, securing their first series victory against North Carolina since 2014 and a program-best 17th ACC win.
Outlook: After that landmark series win against North Carolina, Duke went 2-3 down the stretch, including a series loss at Georgia Tech that may have cost the Blue Devils a chance to host a regional. Duke will need its pitching to step up this weekend if they are to continue their magical season.
3. Troy (41-19, 19-11 Sun Belt Conference)
20th appearance (first since 2013); at-large bid; second in the Sun Belt East Division
BA 500 Prospects: OF Brandon Lockridge (194)
Season In A Sentence: Troy marched to 41 wins, including 19 conference wins, while advancing to its first conference tournament championship game appearance since 2010.
Player To Watch: Joey Denison, OF: Troy had an abundance of offensive stars in 2018, but Dension stood out from the rest. The redshirt senior was named the Sun Belt player of the year after hitting .387/.459/.591 with six home runs and 60 runs scored. He also recorded 74 RBIs, which ranked third in the nation.
Best Weekend: Sun Belt Conference Tournament, May 23-27. Troy had not advanced to a conference tournament championship game in eight years entering the 2018 Sun Belt Conference Tournament. The Trojans brought that streak to an end last week with an offensive explosion. Troy scored 25 runs in three games while allowing their opponents to score only two runs in order to advance to the conference championship game. Although Troy fell to Coastal Carolina in the title game, the Trojans’ week in Lafayette, La., was enough to ensure an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2013.
Outlook: Troy’s success in the regional will depend greatly on its pitching. The Trojans averaged a little more than seven runs per game in 2018 and have been able to rely on a healthy amount of runs in almost every game this season. If Troy’s pitching can hold up its end of the deal, the Trojans could pull off a few upsets in Athens.
Bracket Busters: Ball State, Central Michigan Series Is A Showcase For The MAC
Ball State and Central Michigan, the top two teams in the MAC, meet this weekend with first place on the line.
4. Campbell (35-24, 21-6 Big South Conference)
Third appearance (first since 2014); automatic bid; first in the Big South; Big South Tournament champions
BA 500 Prospects: None.
Season In A Sentence: Campbell returned a large number of key contributors from 2017, but the Camels got off to a cold start in non-conference play before riding an impressive 21-6 Big South record into the NCAA Tournament.
Player To Watch: Allan Winans, RHP: Winans was a workhorse for Campbell in 2018, logging a team-high 76 innings. The redshirt senior recorded a 2.61 ERA, 89 strikeouts and only 23 walks en route to becoming the Big South pitcher of the year.
Best Weekend: Big South Conference Tournament, May 22-26. Campbell’s best weekend was undoubtedly its run in the Big South Conference Tournament. The Camels dominated its first two games, scoring 16 runs and allowing only four. After a 10-5 loss to Liberty, Campbell won its next two games in order to win the tournament and lock up an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014.
Outlook: Campbell has definitely been trending in the right direction toward the end of the season, winning six of its last seven games. However, the Camels went just 5-13 against other NCAA Tournament teams this season and will need to turn that mark around in order to advance to the super regionals for the first time in program history.